Saturday, 11 December 2010

Ugly buildings in Oxford

Whilst Oxford is renowned for its wonderful architecture  [Bodleian Library, Wrens Theatre, numerous college quadrangles etc. etc.]; it also has some ugly sisters. According to the site below, Oxford 'wanted to have some ugly buildings' from the 'post war' era. They are described as being not 'in sympathy' with their older neighbours. Is that what makes architecture ugly? - Not being in sympathy with something that went before coupled with being built after 1945....

The Westgate Centre and Car Park (photo from Oxford Lights)

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Ugly Green Architecture
Treehugger ask a crucial question: Why is so much green architecture ugly?
Probably because aesthetics has to follow the green function.
Is it even possible to produce an architecture that looks good and is 'sustainable'? Probably not.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Modern Art, Modern Architecture and a lack of beauty: Daily Mail
 According to the Daily Mail's writer, Roger Scruton, there is a cult of ugliness in Britain (Daily Mail, 02 December 2009). 
Of course, Modern architecture is cited as being one of the high priests of this new faith, 

"The lapse into ugliness is nowhere more apparent or more intrusive than in the desolate city centres produced by modern architects."

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Marcel Breuer

Writing for the Architectural Review in 1935 Marcel Breuer attempted to set the record straight in his article, “Where do we Stand?”.
He discusses his admiration for ‘peasant’ and ‘vernacular’ culture, the associations connected to the word, ‘revolution’ and rebuffed claims that Modern Architecture is “cold, hard, empty-looking, ultra-logical, unimaginative and mechanistic in every detail” with, “whoever thinks so has either only seen the worst examples of modern architecture, or else has had no opportunity to live in or make closer inspection of the best”[1]. Whilst in later times he may have been accused of being a ‘formalist’, he goes on to describe some key principles of what modern meant to him,
“we have no use for beauty in the form of a foreign body, of ornament, or of a titivating of undesigned structural elements; nor even as an arbitrary magnification of certain dimensions, a purely transient vogue. We have no use for architecture that is labelled symbolist, cubist, neoplastic or ‘constructivist’. We know that the essential and determining elements of a building can be wholly rational without this rationalisation in any way affecting the question of whether it is beautiful or ugly”[2].

If only Marcel. We cannot help ourselves when it comes to judging architecture.

[1] Breuer, M. (1935). Where do we Stand? The Architectural Review. 77: 133-136, p135           
[2] Breuer, M. (1935). Where do we Stand? The Architectural Review. 77: 133-136, p136

Monday, 9 August 2010

Serlio's Ugly Composite Order

See the image for Serlio's, "rather ugly version of the Composite" order.
The image is a wood cut from 1540 showing the five orders. 

Source Summerson, J. (1963, reprinted 2006). The Classical Language of Architecture. London, Thames & Hudson World of Art., p64
The composite order is on the far right!

The Hayward Gallery

"London's most unloved building" (Esher, L. (1981). A Broken Wave: the rebuilding of England, 1940-1980. Harmondsworth, Penguin, p110)

A link between Modernism and super-skinny models?

"Just as the ugliness of Modernism in architecture and fashion go hand in hand, so the timeless ideal in building, with all of its sensually curvaceous surfaces, harmonizes with traditional, rounded, feminine beauty".

An article on the 'link' between modern architecture and the current trend for super-skinny models. The blog argues that a more baroque, full-bodied architecture is a better option. We at The Architecture of Ugliness couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Lawn Road Flats

"In the early post-war period, Lawn Road Flats won second prize in the Ugliest Building Competition organized by Cyeil Connolly's Horizon. This too, perhaps, in its way, was no mean feat"1 
The Lawn Road flats was certainly an austere composition, but in its current restored and cared for state, it looks elegant and purposeful. It has also housed some famous residents including Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and even Agatha Christie to name but a few....

I'm not sure who won this prestigious award, but I'll try to find out....

1. Fiona MacCarthy in Pritchard, J. (1984). View from a Long Chair. London, Routledge, p22

photo by Stevecadman via Flickr. 

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Birmingham named UK's ugliest city

40% of Birmingham residents voted for their own city! At least they were being honest - there's a lot of ugly buildings in Birmingham, but the Bull Ring is quite good.....

Manchester's Arndale centre came 4th - despite its 'makeover' following the IRA bomb in the mid-1990s.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

London Barbican, "one of the wonders of the modern world" according to the Queen

 The Barbican Centre, topped a poll for London's most ugliest building according to a report on the BBC website:

When Her Majesty opened the building in 1982 she declared it one of the wonders of the modern world - indeed. Perhaps this explains why Prince Charles is so against Modern architecture, it's just an age old case of rebelling against one's parents.

The top ten list was as follows:

1. Barbican Centre
2. BT Communications Tower
3. Millennium Dome
4. Centre Point Tower
5. Elephant and Castle Shopping
6. Euston Station
7. Royal Free Hospital
8. M16 Building
9. St. Georges Wharf
10. Postal Sorting Office, Rathbone Place, W1

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

IMAX in Bournemouth demolished because it is too ugly

Is this really the best way to determine the outcome of our built environment?
On one hand it is democratic; if you consider a TV audience pressing their red buttons to be democratic. There may be worse contenders in smaller towns who could only muster a few votes. It doesn't make their case any less significant. The demolition of any building is not to be taken lightly. What is considered a good idea by one generation is seen as legalised vandalism by the next. A good example of this would be the Euston arch. A lesser known example is one stretch of Abercromby Square, Liverpool demolished to make way for a bland pile making reference to the Georgian architecture it replaced....
Betjeman described Abercromby square as being like a small town within a larger one. If that is the case a quarter of it was demolished by the University of Liverpool to make way for what was called, Senate House (now the Abercromby wing of the Sydney Jones Library).
Of course, the Imax in Bournemouth was unlikely to become a significant work of architecture but we must surely not resort to mob rule in these matters.

Ghastly Good Taste

"Nature is kind. She causes her creature to adapt themselves to their surroundings; to certain fish in the deepest parts of the ocean she gives enormous eyes which are able to pierce the darkness of the watery deep. To the town dweller to-day she has given a kind of eye which makes him blind to the blatant ugliness by which he is surrounded. She has affected his critical reasoning powers and his eyesight....the average man is part to blame, the architect more so.... "
Betjeman, John (1933, 1970) "Ghastly Good Taste or a depressing story  of the rise and fall of English Architecture",  London, Anthony Blond.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Mies Van Der Rohe v's Venturi

Which house would you prefer to live in? The Farnsworth House by Mies, or with Mrs Venturi in her house designed by Robert.
The blog linked below, is in praise of the Modern in preference to the Post-Modern. [We haven't really covered much post-modern on this blog yet but it will be explored in great detail in due course....]

In this blog the author states that the Venturi house "looks like it was built off site with spare parts gathered from demolished homes and dropped in with a helicopter without care or concern of how the home’s parts relate to the whole or how the home relates to the site. Of course this is the whole point and the goal of the post modern relativist".

I don't think this statement is true - Venturi carefully designed this house, which if the plans and sections are studied becomes overtly apparent. He is twisting the vernacular and responding to bland modernism.

According to the above blog the  Mies house on the other hand, "was the product of a careful discipline. Universal laws of symmetry, geometry, and historical precedent all coming together to form a unified whole".

Yes, that maybe so, but oh, so controlled and hygienic.

Stowe Gardens, Gothic

In case you thought I was biased against Modernism and Brutalist architecture, here is something a little different....
The Picturesque English Landscape Garden:
I've now started to look for literary references to Ugliness, so wherever I come across a building or place described as ugly I'll reference it here.

Amongst the 'classical' follies, arches, bridges and columns at Stowe one finds a Gothic inspired folly. It's described in Follies, Grottoes and Garden Buildings, "Gibb's Gothic Temple is doubtless the most striking building at Stowe. It is Ugly (even to aficionados), a hideous rusty brown colour, big intrusive and wonderful. It is triangular and has nothing to recommend it apart from its solidity and its leering self-confidence".
It certainly works better as an eyecatcher from across the lake, where the eye is tricked into believing it is a fully operating church on top of the hill.

Quote taken from Follies, Grottoes and Garden Buildings, (1999) Headley & Meulenkamp, London, Aurum Press, p136.

Le Corbusier, Chandigarh, Sector-17

“M. Le Corbusier has enthusiasm and a remarkable faculty for begging the question, and whatever the value of his writings I find his buildings simply unintelligible in their purpose and wholly unpleasant to look at”[1].

[1] Blomfield, R. (1934). Modernismus. London, Macmillan and Co., p57

Monday, 14 June 2010

Bad British Architecture

The Bad British Architecture blog has slightly different aims to Ugliness blog.
There are some astoundingly poor designs highlighted on this site, that quite frankly, wouldn't qualify them
for this blog. Here, we need to at least admire the ugliness of a building before it features, and indeed many ugly buildings have merits beyond their unfortunate genes.
However, if you want to see just how bad things can get have a peek at:

These buildings were designed by architects with seven years training. We cannot blame everything on design and build contracts.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Royal Liverpool University Hospital

Designed by Holford Associates around 1963, it opened its doors to the sick and inflicted in 1978. According to Sharples the back is "undeniably impressive, if intimidating" (Sharples, 2004, "Liverpool" Yale University Press).
Perhaps the best bit is the boiler house with its 'hammer-like' chimney. The determined grid of the facade is also successful, framed by the ventilation stacks and emergency escapes at either side.

Now that various properties have been demolished in the Mount Vernon area a new view has opened up of the hospital (see photograph). I recommend interested readers head up to the Mount Vernon public house, Kensington and have a look for themselves. It certainly is impressive. The scale of the building is vast, something visitors will not necessarily experience as they approach the hospital entrance because of the podium.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Technosis extronality cluster fuck

Strong words from James Howard Kunstler.
Another great lecture posted on TED.
Unfortunately he goes on about 'places not worth caring about' -
and makes a tenuous link between America's worst places and the
wars in the Middle-East and Afghanistan.....

Monday, 10 May 2010

Ugly Architecture on Flickr

Well I never, a group on Flickr devoted to my favorite topic!

There are some real gems here such as Boston City Hall: (photo by joe shlabotnik)

There are others that are photographed in a too 'arty' manner. If it is an ugly building don't try to make it look better through choreographed photography.

Ugly buildings can still make great architecture

The incomplete, unfinished, and unkempt can still make good architecture. An unresolved ambiguous composition [i.e. post-structuralist] is often more satisfying than the finished and complete [i.e. structuralist]

Perhaps as we engage with the 'death of the author', and begin to acknowledge the presence of the 'reader' we create space for 'un-complete' and fragmented solutions.

The World's Ugliest Buildings?

Come on Guardian, you must be able to do better than that!

The Guardian lists the following as being the World's Ugliest Buildings:

1. House of the Republic (now Palace of the Parliament), Bucharest

Nicolae Ceaucescu's monumental folly still holds world records for the largest civilian administrative building, most expensive administrative building, and heaviest building in the world. Constructing it required demolishing much of Bucharest's historic district, including 19 Orthodox Christian churches, six Jewish synagogues, three Protestant churches, and 30,000 residences. It's still unfinished.

2. Buckingham Palace, London

Home to the second-longest lasting unelected head of state in the world, let's face it, it's monolithic and could have been built by Stalin. Nash no doubt did his best to beautify a pig, but a pig it remains.

3. Ryerson University Library, Toronto

Proving that democracy can also be brutal (just ask the Iraqis), this 11-storey tower looks more like a second world war fortification than a temple of learning. The sort of place you wouldn't want to be late returning books to.

4. Any McDonald's drive-thru, anywhere

They are to architecture what the Happy Meal is to nutrition. And they're always the same. Everywhere. Around the world. No matter where they've plonked them. Vernacular? What's that?

5. St George Wharf, London

Butterflied prawns are good, butterflied roofs are not. What were they thinking? Occasionally voted the UK's most hated building, it probably wouldn't look out of place in Shanghai.

How did Italy get so Ugly?

I don't know, it seems alright to me.......

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Spending a Penny: The Humble Public Convenience

Unlike the current trend for prefabricated WC's that we find in our city centres of late, previous versions were far more substantial and determined.
Here we see a squat brick structure with high level openings and flat roof.
The structure is split into two rooms; one for male customers, the other for female.
Although now synonymous with the popular trend for 'cottaging', they represent a caring civic attitude and concern for the welfare of visitors to the city.
Whilst there is a stark functionalist aesthetic to the structure, other functions such as hygiene, beauty and safety are sadly neglected. There is a meanness to the architecture, its defensive form and materials attempting to withstand abuse and vandalism.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The Death of Modernism

Here we see La Princesse [a giant mechanical spider, see] descending down the side of Concourse House in Liverpool.

Located on a key site next to Lime Street Station the building represented post-war optimism through its high-rise, high specification and city views.
In reality it was ill-located, poorly maintained and perhaps represents the worst of modernist design through its monotonous facade and lack of concern for how the building touched the ground plane.

The spider's bite sealed the buildings fate and it has now been demolished.

What will take its place? The land value of this site must be considerable and rental incomes could be significant....

Derelict or Ruin

When does a derelict building become a ruin? Regular readers will recall my previous blog on ruins []!

When does a delapidated, sad, empty, abandoned, redundant building become that special artifact we cherish as a ruin?

We return to Liverpool again to Edge Lane. There has been a 'compulsory purchase order' placed on these tremendous Victorian dwellings. This means the owners have been forced to relinquish their homes. The reason for this is to allow road widening/traffic alterations from the M62 motorway into Liverpool city centre.
If that wasn't bad enough, the windows of the properties have been boarded up and painted in some hideous "graffiti-style" fashion. This is clearly bad art, and perhaps a definition of ugliness.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Sign On: A nice piece of brutalism

This is a Job Centre in Liverpool. Why is it a bunker? Why is this public building so defensive? Who is being protected and from whom?

Upon closer inspection however, it isn't all as it first seems. The roller shutter leaves the bottom of the door exposed......
The band of concrete at first floor level is really a formal device: it serves no function beyond suggesting an aggressive, confrontational architecture.
Above the concrete band is a reclining glazed-cladding upper section; hardly fortress.

Sunday, 3 January 2010


The Cemetery
Within our cities and towns we set aside designated places for the burial of our dead. The photographs on this blog are taken from Smithdown Road Cemetery, Liverpool. A quick look at the Ordnance Survey Maps of Liverpool reveals that the cemetery was located well away from the city when it was first built - presumably to ensure that disease was kept well away from the inhabitants. Eventually the city engulfed the cemetery and a Workhouse [designed by Culshaw & Sumners] was built next door to the grave yard - presumably because land was cheap and it reduced the travel distance: in one door - out the other.
Today, despite the drunkards and the Staffordshire bull terriers it is a delightful setting. Its ugliness comes through the ostentatious vanity of some of its occupants. The futile attempts at immortality and claiming importance in death as in life, or perhaps I'm mistaken, and the extravagant commemorations are displays from loved ones. We see a variety of styles, miniature gothick Albert Memorials, peculiar cenotaphs with sculpture & bas relief and the inevitable urns. A collection of obelisks creates an interesting display, some with vastly over-scaled pedestals reducing the obelisk to a mere finial.


Abandoned buildings, dilapidated structures: they are signs of previous human occupation.

The ruins below are not ugly though. They are the clean white bones; not the decaying carcass that we find repulsive, the abandoned building occupied by pigeons.

At what point is the delapidation complete and the status of ruin achieved. At what point does romanticism take over from the sadness of waste and neglect? Perhaps it is the tenacity of the ruin that intrigues us. Its defiance to resist complete demolition and to remain more seemingly permanent than an occupied useable and 'functional' structure. The ruin played such an important part in the Western Renaissance. We returned to Rome, Greece and Turkey to measure such things as tools for estalbishing our future course. Could they be in-grained as a collective memory. The ruined Bank of England more certain as a ruin that Soane's incomplete version.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Cabients of Curiosities

We have a special relationships with things, objects, stuff, art, belongings and collections. We are what we own and we form a 'collective' identity through our national collections.
Cabinets of Curiosities have contained the unusual, the peculiar and the grotesque [i.e the ugly], as well as the unique, precious, rare and splendid (the sublime), and in that sense they form the perfect studies, as they illustrate our fascination with the ugly as well as our marveling at the beautiful.
The desire to own 'one of everything'....

My own foray into this dark and dirty domain has been through taxidermy.
A connection with death and yet the preservation of the illusion of life.
Image: Stoat Trophy mounted on rectangular timber shield.

Taxidermy: Whilst taxidermy may not be popular mass culture, it has seen something of a revival in recent years, especially in Modern Art [possibly stemming from Hurst's works].
To some taxidermy is a morbid creation symbolic of hunting, imperialism and cruelty, and in the past this may have been partially true, but it has always been more than that.
It has also featured in some poorly executed museum displays and equally is still found in some delightful curatorial feats [as found in the Manchester Museum, New Yorks Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum]. What better way of learning about an animal than actually seeing it {- yes, of course there is no substitute for seeing an animal 'in the wild' etc etc. }

Taxidermy is one of those topics that spans established genres. It is both a science and an art form. It is concerned with our natural surroundings, the beauty of creation, and also with fiction and narrative. Each taxiderm tells a story and sets a scene. It enables us to become un-naturally close to animals that would otherwise be out of reach. It possibly reminds us of death, but for me it is the marvel of looking at a wild animal, preserved and removed from passing time, seasons and the cycle of life.
Many people are scared when they first encounter a taxidermy specimen. Perhaps this relates to an inner ancient mode of self-preservation. We still feel fear when we see a lion form, regardless of whether it is alive or taxidermed.